The term Renaissance designates the rebirth of the arts and sciences that accompanied the complex and often painful economic, social, political, and intellectual transformations that took place in Europe between about 1300 and 1650. The Renaissance was a new age of exploration of the word, the world, the mind, and the human body. The Renaissance era may have ultimately transformed European cul- ture in a profound and permanent way that led to the modern world, but it was also a period in which superstition, mysticism, intolerance, and epidemic disease ﬂourished. During this period, Europe experi- enced the disintegration of medieval economic, social, and religious patterns, the expansion of commerce, cities, and trade, and the growth of the modern state. While such a profound transformation might seem to imply a sharp break with the past, in many ways the Renais- sance was the natural culmination of the Middle Ages. Scholars have argued that the Renaissance was not yet an age of individualism, as indicated by the importance of kinship ties and the growth of re- ligious and professional associations. For the most part, towns and cities were urban islands surrounded by traditional rural life. More- over, medievalists have argued that the outlines of modern society were already being formed between the late tenth century and the early thirteenth.
As an era of scientiﬁc and philosophical interest, if not therapeutic advances, the Renaissance is a time of special importance for medicine. The death rate circa 1500 was about three times the present level, and life expectancy was perhaps half that of modern Europe. War, famine, and epidemic disease appeared so often that fears of the imminent end of the world were widespread. However, the exact relationship between the Renaissance and the renaissance of medicine is extremely complicated. It is possible to speak of a long medical renaissance that began in the twelfth century, a distinct medical renaissance of the sixteenth century, and a medical revolution of the seventeenth century.